Theme: Contrasting Circumstances
In this week’s lessons, we look at those in the Christmas story who found Christ and worshipped him in truth.
Scripture: Luke 2:8-20
You see the same kind of contrast in the financial area. The shepherds were poor, among the poorest of the poor. The wise men were rich, probably among the richest of the rich. We notice that after the shepherds saw Jesus and left, we’re not told that they gave the child or the family any gifts. They didn’t have any gifts to give. But the wise men were very well off. Not only could they afford to take this long journey, but upon finding the child they presented gifts of gold, incense and myrrh.
There is another contrast between the two in terms of education. The shepherds were uneducated. They were among the “people of the land,” and didn’t even know their own language well enough to be able to read the Jewish Scriptures. Nobody would have thought twice about the shepherds. They knew nothing at all. On the other hand, the magi were wise men. Their wisdom was proverbial. These magi were instructed in all of the religious documents of the east, “magic” or healing arts, astrology and astronomy. And it was these after all who, when they saw the Messiah’s star in the sky, identified it, knew how to interpret it, and also how to respond.
Or again, I think there’s a contrast in terms of distance, only in this case it works the other way. Here were the shepherds in the very proximity of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and here were the magi, who had to make a long journey to get there. We don’t know exactly where they came from; the designation from the east is a general description. But we do know that Herod inquired diligently at what time the star appeared, and then later when the magi had tricked him by returning to their own country by another route, he had all the babies of Bethlehem who were two years of age and under killed. This probably suggests that the star had appeared between one and two years previous, and if that’s the case, assuming that the wise men got themselves together and began to make their journey relatively quickly, they were probably on the road for a period of many months, which means they traveled a great distance.
The point about the comparison of distance is that Christmas is for everyone, no matter who you may be. Jesus did not come just for the rich of the world or for the poor of the world. He didn’t come just for the prominent of the world or for those with no social standing at all. He didn’t come for the educated alone or the uneducated alone. He came for everybody. He is not the Savior of the rich or the poor, or the wise or the foolish alone. He is the Savior of the world. That means that here at the very beginning of the Christmas story, in this comparison of these two groups of people, we have the testimony that Christ and his gospel is for you, whoever you may be.
I think, however, that when I look at the shepherds and the wise men and I put them together, I’m impressed more with the ways in which they’re alike than I am with the ways in which they’re different. It’s true they were different in all those ways, and that makes a perfectly valid point. Yet in terms of their spiritual experience, they went through exactly the same thing. Let me suggest the steps of that experience.
List and describe the other contrasts made between the shepherds and wise men.
Can you think of any other contrasts that might exist between these two groups?
In spite of significant differences, in what way are they similar?
Reflection: You can probably think of Christians you know who are very different in various ways. How are they different, and how does their common spiritual experience unite them?